Ninety-five years ago today, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, an armistice was signed with Germany to cease fighting the Great War. One year later, on November 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared that the day would be called Armistice Day, to honor those who fought in World War I. More than three decades later—after the “war to end war” gave way to World War II and to the Korean War—the holiday was renamed Veterans Day, and was intended as a day to honor all veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
In today’s post I’d like to honor all of my family members who served in defense of our country.
Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember and to honor the American men and women who have died while in military service. Unlike Veterans Day, which celebrates the service of all U.S. veterans, Memorial Day is specifically set aside to commemorate those who died while serving.
In this post, I’d like to commemorate the sacrifices of family members who have died while in the service of our country. If you know of people I have missed, or if you know of details beyond what I’ve presented here, please let me know in the comments section.
I like to think I’ve got pretty darned good internet search skills, but I have nothing on my wife. She’s got the magic touch. As evidence of that, I’d like to share with you a discovery that she made earlier tonight—a child’s cradle made by Sever Severson himself, perhaps for his own children or for a niece or a nephew.
Sever and his wife Martha had five children together—all girls. Their oldest daughter, Anne Mary, was born around 1856, Julia was born around 1858, Ellen Caroline (“Carrie”) was born in 1859, Selina was born in 1862, and their youngest, Cecila M (“Celia”) was born six weeks after her father died of dysentery in Atlanta, Georgia, while serving as a Union soldier in the Civil War. If the 1855 date for the cradle (written on the back of a photo of the cradle from 1920) is correct, then he almost certainly made this for his own children. If the 1846 date on the headboard is correct, perhaps he made this for the children of an older brother or sister, as it would date to 10 years before his first child was born.
Sever Severson kept a diary in 1864, writing in it every day from January 1 until September 26, four days before he succumbed to dysentery. He remarks almost daily on the weather and the productivity of his wagonmaking business, and also comments on his travels, local elections, visits to friends and family, his sales, his purchases, and the amount of cash he had on hand.
Sever’s spelling is variable and phonetic, as was common through the middle of the 19th century in the U.S. For instance, instead of “stayed”, he will sometimes write “Stad” while at other times writing “Stayd”, “Staed” or “sted”. Sever also only infrequently used punctuation, leading to confusion in a few cases. To help better understand his diary, I have provided edited versions of his entries.
Although Sever wrote his diary entries in English, his Norwegian education is evidenced in a couple of ways. He commonly slips into the Germanic convention of capitalizing nouns, common in Norwegian orthography until the 1907 reform of the language. He also occasionally slips into Norwegian; for example, on July 10 he writes “at Meeting in John Fjelds Kirke Church” (“kirke” is Norwegian for “church”). In other ways, however, he seems to be pushing himself to break with Norwegian; for example, rather than using the word “begin” (the cognate of the Norwegian “begynne”), he opts to use the word “commence.”
There are many entries along the lines of “L 1 day H 1 day A ½ day”. Sever employed several men to work for him in his shops and on other projects, and it appears these notations were his way of recording the time each man worked on that day for purposes of payroll.
What follows is a first draft of a full transcription. Please let me know of any mistakes you find, or if you can interpret words that I have not been able to understand. Red type face indicates words and names I have not yet been able to decipher. Green type face indicates transcribed words or names for which I do not have full confidence.
As I mentioned in previous posts, my newly discovered cousin Anne dropped a bombshell on me about six weeks ago when she mentioned that Sever Severson kept a diary in 1864, the year he died while serving the Union Army in the Civil War. She had a faint photocopy of it that her mother had made, and she recalled that it had been passed down to another branch of the family. She tracked down these cousins and found they still had the diary. One of these cousins, Charlie, lives only two and a half hours away, and Nancy lives in Spain, but just so happened to be visiting over the last two weeks (the curious coincidences of this encounter could fill a post on their own).
A little over a week ago, I drove out to the Sierra foothills to meet Nancy and her father Charlie. Nancy and her father are also descendants of Sever Severson, and they’re also passionate about family history. Nancy and Charlie are descended from Celia Severson, the sister of my great-great-grandmother, Carrie Severson (making Nancy and I third cousins, one removed, and Charlie and I second cousins, twice removed). After a talking for a while, Nancy took me upstairs to where their family history files are kept and showed me the diary.
It was smaller than I imagined (4.9 x 3.25 inches; slightly larger than an iPhone), and in much better shape than I expected it to be. Nancy and I both put on our cotton gloves to look through the diary, and I couldn’t help thinking that Sever would be happy to see the grandchildren of his grandchildren (or, in my case, the great-grandchild of his granddaughter) being brought together after all these generations by the diary he wrote 149 years ago.
Locating an ancestor’s Civil War military service records can sometimes be difficult, but it is by no means an impossible task. If your ancestor served in the Union army, if he had a distinctive name, if you know where he lived, when he served, and you’ve found at least one mention of the unit (company and regiment) that he served in, it can actually be an easy, straight-forward task. Even if you have only some of this information, you can often still find your ancestor thanks to a number of tremendously useful indexes that are available in printed form or online.
If, on the other hand, your ancestor had a common (and commonly misspelled) name, if you’re unsure of when and where he served, if all available military documents strangely omit reference to his company and regiment, and if he seems to be missing from all relevant indexes, it sure starts to feel like it might be impossible.
In today’s post, I’ll share my experiences trying to find my ancestor’s elusive Civil War service record. I have a record that he was drafted in June, 1863, and he’s included in a list of the men going to war in September, 1863. I also have strong evidence that he died in a Union hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 30, 1864, that he was buried in a military cemetery that same day, and that he was exhumed and reinterred with a military headstone in Marietta National Cemetery. Yet between September, 1863, and September, 1864, if the consulted sources are to be believed, there is no record of his military service. I’ll see what I can do about that.
In Part 1 of this post, I introduced the story of Sever Severson, the Norwegian immigrant, husband, and father of five daughters, who was drafted for military service in the Civil War and apparently died in the war, never to come home.
In a recent post, I shared news about an exciting development that’s come to light in my research into Sever Severson’s death—knowledge that Sever kept a daily diary from January 1, 1864, until September 26, 1864, just four days before he died, and that at least a copy of that diary has survived.
In this, the second post in this series, I’ll assess what I don’t know in regards to the emerging story of the life and death of Sever Severson, and I’ll formulate questions that I’ll need to answer in order to shed light on these unknowns. I’ll do what I can to answer as many of the questions as possible, and then I’ll chart a course for finding answers to the remaining questions.